What is Activation-synthesis theory?

Activation-synthesis theory

The activation-synthesis theory is a hypothesis proposed by Harvard University scientists John Allan Hobson and Robert McCarley in the early 1980s to explain the physiological basis of dreaming. According to this theory, the brainstem generates electrical activity during sleep, which is then interpreted by the neocortex as a dream.

The brain’s inability to distinguish between external stimuli and internally generated electrical activity leads to the creation of the narrative and sensory experiences of a dream.

The theory suggests that dreams serve as a way for the brain to make sense of and synthesize the random neuronal activity that occurs during sleep.

Here are some more details about the activation-synthesis theory:

  • The theory proposes that the brainstem, a region of the brain that controls basic functions such as heart rate and breathing, generates random electrical activity during sleep.
  • This activity is transmitted to the neocortex, the part of the brain responsible for higher cognitive functions such as thinking and perception.
  • The neocortex interprets this activity as sensory experiences and creates a narrative to make sense of these sensations, leading to the creation of a dream.
  • The activation-synthesis theory suggests that dreams serve a adaptive function, helping the brain to process and integrate new information and experiences into long-term memory.
  • The theory also suggests that the content of dreams is influenced by the individual’s thoughts, emotions, and experiences.
  • The activation-synthesis theory has been supported by evidence from neuroimaging studies and other research, but it is not the only theory of dreaming and is still the subject of ongoing scientific investigation.

Hobson and McCarley’s theory was a significant contribution to our understanding of the physiological basis of dreaming and has influenced the direction of research on this topic for decades.

However, it is not the only theory of dreaming and continues to be refined and revised based on new scientific evidence.

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